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August 17, 2009

This Sounds Familiar...

Dr. Martin Luther King was a communist. The Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had secret files to prove it. The entire "civil rights" movement was a Soviet Union-backed plot to lead induce race-mixing and thus weaken the fighting will of Americans. President John F. Kennedy was secretly set on disarming the United States. People who supported equal rights for non-whites were unstable, driven insane by mind-altering drugs and the devil's rock and roll music.

Listening to some of the charges being flung around in the current debate over health care reform, I can’t help but think that I’ve heard it all before. The charges above, of course, were some of those that we heard in America during the 1960s. People frightened by the changes taking place in our society were looking for a boogeyman and found it in the "Communist menace." Rightist politicians, organized hate groups, and some in the news media were quick to jump on the fear bandwagon. Civil rights supporters were shouted down in public meetings. Many universities were closed to certain speakers. Civil rights workers were openly harassed. Some were killed. Others were badly beaten or run out of town.

Despite these obstacles, dedicated civil rights activists—many of whom were students, both black and white—fanned out across the country to seek a change in the laws of the nation. Brave religious leaders stood up to speak truth to power. Advocates of reform organized and took action and eventually achieved great social change in America.

Now, once again, we seem to be on the threshold of major social change, and once again the threats, outlandish charges, and out-right thuggery are part of our public life this summer of discontent. Now there are new charges... President Obama isn't an American. He is part of a Muslim plot to destroy the country. The Democrats’ health care plan would create “death panels” to euthanize senior citizens, thereby reducing health care costs.

Again, the motivating factor is fear of change. I cannot help but believe that much of that fear is—just as in the 1960s—stoked by racial anxiety. It has finally sunk in that the election of Barack Obama is a reality and there is no going back to the “good old days.”

Another similarity is the stockpile of firearms in private hands. Only now the weapons are far more sophisticated and dangerous. I could not help but be alarmed by the New Hampshire man who recently showed up to a public forum held by the President of the United States with a 9mm handgun prominently strapped to his leg and a sign about letting the blood of “tyrants.” I am glad my colleague Josh Horwitz is keeping a close eye on such insurrectionist activity.

But there are two key differences between this upheaval and that of the 1960s. First, in the 1960s we did not have a 24/7 news coverage machine and the Internet to present unedited opinions instantly. Second, it seems that the majority of Americans are not buying into the scare tactics and will not stand (or fall) for such paranoia.

Ultimately, it is up to people of conscience to prevail against hate and intimidation and achieve the change we so desperately need. We can all have great confidence in our ability to reach this goal—those brave souls of the 1960s, who refused to bend against any opposition, proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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